Carmichael’s rejected governor’s mansion at 2300 California Ave. is now a private residence with no connection to state government. / Photo by Lance Armstrong
When Californians refer to the “governor’s mansion,” they are generally speaking about the Second Empire Italianate-style Victorian mansion on 16th Street, along the old Highway 40. But at times, some of these references are directed toward the historic Stanford Mansion at 800 N Street or the mansion built for this state’s governors in Carmichael.
Many people in the Sacramento area recall this latter, controversial estate overlooking the American River.
It was that very mansion at 2300 California Ave. that was to solve this state’s void of a permanent structure for its chief executive.
But this mansion was already a major issue of debate while it was still under construction in 1974, as Gov. Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown, Jr., during his second term in office, refused to reside in the structure.
Despite the fact that nearly every other state in the Union has a designated, permanent governor’s residence, it has been 45 years since such a place has existed in California.
The French Second Empire/Renaissance Revival-style Stanford Mansion was once home to the state’s eighth governor, Leland Stanford, and the following two governors, Frederick F. Low and Henry H. Haight.
The mansion on the 16th Street
And the aforementioned 16th Street mansion, which was built in 1877 for Albert Gallatin of the hardware business, Huntington, Hopkins & Co., was the home of every California state governor from 1903 to 1967.
Following the 16th Street mansion’s nine decades as a residence, then-Gov. Ronald Reagan and his family became the final residents of the mansion. The Reagans moved from the mansion into a leased home in the upscale East Sacramento neighborhood, known as the Fabulous Forties.
This move occurred only four months after the Reagans moved into the 16th Street mansion.
California First Lady Nancy Reagan was dissatisfied with the structure’s living conditions and declared it a “firetrap” with a neighborhood that was unsafe for small children.
The 16th Street mansion and its property, which is known today as the Governor’s Mansion State Historic Park, is now recognized as one of Sacramento’s most important historic sites and is a popular destination for visitors and locals seeking to learn some history through daily, guided tours.
Carmichael Mansion construction begins
Construction on the 12,000-square-foot, concrete block Carmichael mansion began during the final stretch of Gov. Reagan’s second and last term in office. Contracts for the job were let in October 1974 and construction began shortly thereafter.
The mansion, which was completed in 1975, was built within 11.3 acres on the bluffs that were donated by friends of Gov. Reagan.
Brown criticizes construction
On Tuesday, Nov. 5, 1974, Brown, a then-36-year-old bachelor, was elected to replace Reagan as governor.
Brown had made it an issue in his campaign to refer to the construction of the $1.3 million, 17-room governor’s residence, which Gov. Reagan was determined to have built, as an inappropriate use of funds during a recession, in which many California residents could not afford adequate housing.
Gov. Reagan, however, stressed that the construction of the Carmichael mansion was appropriate in that it would fill the void of a permanent governor’s residence, and serve in this capacity for at least a century.
“It is not a residence for one particular governor,” Gov. Reagan told reporters in 1974. “It is a residence for governors on down through the years, a hundred years or more.”
Continuing, Reagan said, “I recognize there are some forces in Sacramento that believe the residence should not be a residence, so much as a tourist attraction downtown. I think that’s unfair to anybody who occupies this job.”
A Venus-like statue stands amidst greenery just inside the entrance to the old governor’s mansion grounds. / Photo by Lance Armstrong
Brown dubbs it “Taj Mahal”
Although Brown did not take office until Jan. 6, 1975, soon after being elected governor, he continued to publicly voice his opinion and intentions regarding the construction of the governor’s mansion, which was patterned after a Spanish villa.
In speaking to local reporters only two days after he was elected as the state’s next chief executive, Brown said, “I have not looked at (the under construction Carmichael mansion) yet. I want to take a look at the contract and see if it is legally and economically feasible to terminate it. I certainly want to, if I can.”
Brown was unable to halt the construction of the mansion, which he famously dubbed a “Taj Mahal.” However, he held true to his words that he would not live in the structure, as he instead opted to make a sparsely-furnished, two-bedroom apartment at the Dean Apartments at 1400 N St. his gubernatorial home.
Others were also critical of the Carmichael mansion, which some people referred to as having the appearance of a Safeway supermarket.
The Sacramento-born writer Joan Didion called the mansion “an enlarged version of a very common kind of California tract house.”
The mansion’s loyal caretakers
A 1979 United Press International article, however, described two couples who were very fond of the mansion.
According to the article, Lonnie and Mildred Eastmade and Jim and Ruth Bryner were at the time dividing the monthly cost of $1,600 per month to live in and take care of the estate. The couples were responsible for security of the place, various upkeep and escorting reporters and state visitors around the mansion.
The article noted that the Eastmades and Bryners did not “take kindly to putdowns of the river bluff villa – even from Gov. Brown.”
Deukmejian takes office
Unlike Brown, Gov. George Deukmejian, who served as Brown’s successor from 1983 to 1991, said on multiple occasions that he wanted to reside with his family in the Carmichael mansion.
However, Senate Democrats insisted on the sale of the mansion, and on July 15, 1983, Deukmejian changed his stance on the matter and advised lawmakers that there was no need to block the sale of the Carmichael estate.
The Deukmejian administration had rejected a $1.5 million bid to purchase the mansion in June 1983.
In its Sept. 14, 1984 edition, The Sacramento Union announced that Southern California developer Matt Franich had submitted the winning bid of $1.53 million for the Carmichael mansion.
According to the article, Franich offered Deukmejian the opportunity to reside at the mansion, but Deukmejian found the $18,000 per month minimum rent payment to be too costly.
Today, the old Carmichael mansion that was built as a governor’s residence is the privately-owned home of a local physician and his wife.
Altogether the original, 11.3-acre property includes eight lots, four of which have houses. The lots for the non-governor’s mansion homes were sold in 2003 and 2004.
The entire property is gated in from the street. And on a brick pillar supporting the entrance gate is a plaque bearing the Spanish name, La Casa de los Gobernadores – “The House of the Governors.”
Kim Pacini-Hauch, Lyon Real Estate agent and a resident of the gated community, said that presently there is a rare opportunity for one to purchase a home within the community.
“The (available) house was built in 2007 and it’s listed for sale for $1,595,000,” said Pacini-Hauch, who grew up in Incline Village on the north shore of Lake Tahoe and has resided in the Sacramento area for nearly 30 years. “It’s about 4,200 square feet on just a little under an acre and it (has) beautiful quality construction. There’s just two (homes) here overlooking the bluff in a gated community and there’s nothing like it.”
And in describing her very unique neighborhood, she added, “It’s just a beautiful (community). It’s peaceful and quiet and it’s just a lovely place to live.”